What Happened to My Comrades?
Navigator Finally Comes To The End Of The Trail
By William L. Frankhouser
Original Navigator, Newman Crew
The 398th Bomb Group mission to Merseburg on 2 November 1944 has received notice in prior issues of Flak News, e.g., July 1991, January 1992, and October 1994. The Campbell (601), Newman (603), and Reed (603) crews were lost. Six crewmembers were reported subsequently as KIA, including the pilots Campbell and Newman and four others from the Newman crew. All other crewmembers became POWs.
Campbell initially was buried at an isolated grave in Mulcheln, near Merseburg. When his body was disinterred in 1948, the autopsy report indicated that almost all major bones had been fractured.
What happened to the five persons in the Newman crew who did not become POWs? That question had nagged me for years, especially since I had been a member of this crew when it was assigned to the 398th in July 1944. I had learned also that families of the missing persons had difficulties in getting information about their fates from military authorities, including the Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) Office. For example, some life insurance payments were not made promptly because crewmembers were reported only as MIA.
During my first contact with the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association in 1988, I asked George Hilliard how to obtain information on these crewmembers. He gave me several excellent suggestions and I made an inquiry to the National Archives (NA). A prompt reply indicated that the Newman crew was the subject of Missing Air Crew Report (MACR #1057). A copy of that report, and supplemental information from a file of the War Crimes Branch of the JAG Office, were made available.
Unfortunately, information in these files did not extend beyond 31 December 1947, because all investigations of European Theater crimes were terminated as of that date. Also, the files obviously were grossly incomplete and, at best, sketchy in respect to many specific details.
After Germany was reunited, I wondered whether the German Government would provide details on the deaths of these U.S. Airmen. With the help of Senator John Warner of Virginia, a contact was made with the JAG Office and they suggested that an inquiry be made to the German Justice Ministry.
Now, after several years of letter exchanges with three German Ministries, I have at least a general understanding of what happened to these crewmembers on 2 November 1944. The report that follows is based both on the prior review of MACR #1057 and other records in the NA and on the subsequent German investigations that were conducted during the period 1991 through 1994. Most of the German information was provided by the center for investigating Nazi (NSDAP) crimes, which is located in Ludwigsburg, and by the local justice department in Magdeburg/Halle, that made on-site investigations.
On the mission of 2 November 1944, the Newman crew was flying as lead of the tailend Charlie element in the 603rd (low) squadron (see pg. 9, Flak News, January 1992). Crewmembers for the mission were:
- Herbert H. Newman, 1st. Lt., pilot: Missing.
- Paul G. Deininger, 2nd Lt., co-pilot: POW.
- W. Dean Whitaker, 2nd Lt., navigator: POW.
- Arnold Money, S Sgt., togglier: POW.
- Cornelius Harrington, S Sgt., flight engineer: POW.
- Melvin Cohn, T Sgt., radio operator: Missing.
- Anthony J. Perry, S Sgt., ball turret: Missing.
- Leroy Kucharski, S Sgt., waist gunner: Missing.
- William G. Jones, Sgt., tail turret: Missing.
As the group formation turned from the target, the Newman plane was hit by 20mm shells from German fighters. The tail section and several other areas of the plane were seriously damaged, and a wing was set on fire. Reports from other planes in the group indicate that Jones, in the tail turret probably was killed during this attack. The crew eventually was ordered to bail out, and survivors assumed that everyone was able to do so, except for Jones.
Parts of the plane fell into Polleben, a small town near Eisleben, which is northwest of Merseburg. At least some of these crewmembers landed in fields between Polleben and Schwittersdorf. These landings were observed by Polleben residents, including the NSDAP Ortsgruppenleiter (local leader), Seifert. Next, the four missing crewmembers were killed by civilians, with involvement of at least four NSDAP members. One of these (Zimmerman) was also Chief-of-Police in Polleben. Reports vary in detail, but probably, the deaths resulted from severe beatings and/or shootings.
When the U.S. 7th Army arrived at Polleben in 1945, a German civilian (Flassfeder, now deceased) and/or Polish forced laborers reported the 1944 murders. During the subsequent investigation the Ortsgruppenleiter confessed and was executed by the Americans. The U.S. records indicate that he was shot by a firing squad. The German investigators report that he probably was stabbed to death and then hauled through town on the hood of a jeep to serve as an example. The U.S. Army investigation of further civilian involvements was incomplete when Russian occupation troops moved into the area. Some of the involved persons (Heipe, Kaulman, and Korf) may have been moved to West Germany to stand trial, according to the German investigation. No records of subsequent trials were reported in the N.A. file.
In January 1949, at least two of these accused NSDAP members (Zimmerman and Heuke) were brought to trial by the Russian military. Zimmerman was sentenced to seven years in prison and died while serving that term, at age 68. Heuke was acquitted because witnesses said that he shot only past the victims. The German investigator from Magdeburg, in my judgment, was sincere and persistent in trying to determine everything that happened at Polleben. Over 50 years, memories fade and witnesses die or move away.
So what does all of this mean to me in 1995? I am not certain; perhaps, the simplest answer is that these events at Polleben only corroborate the hackneyed adage, war is hell. I do know that the WWII experience with one group of political egomaniacs (the NSDAP) was sufficient for my lifetime. Unfortunately, in spite of this lesson, similar political zealots are operating in many places around our world today.
This story ties to A Guard With A Limp And Warm Smile by W. Dean Whitaker, Bombardier/Navigator, 603rd Squadron
Printed in Flak News Volume 10, Number 3, Page(s) 10, July 1995